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Lost Airlines
Disappear into the Bermuda Triangle of mergers

Paul Gaston
This week, Cleveland's hub airline, Continental, will take on some new partners, such as United, and say good-bye to some old ones, such as Delta. The new group is called the Star Alliance. It may bode well for Cleveland travelers. But the change has commentator Paul Gaston thinking about airlines no longer with us-- and about what has been lost in the age of deregulation.
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      Remember Northwest Airlines? Or, stretching back a bit further, Northwest Orient airlines? Or how about that most evocative of airline names, Pan American World Airways’? When I hear those names,  I think of propeller-driven clippers landing in the harbors of Singapore and Hong Kong.   Fly to Minneapolis, home to Northwest for more than a half-century, and just about all you’ll see is Delta.
     That diminishment of the Northwest flag has reminded me of Pan Am and of all the other airlines I once flew and--most of all--of why flying was memorable in ways not likely to be seen again.
     There was Southern Airways, where the slogan was “hospitality.” the airplane was likely to be a DC 3, but the coffee was strong and the biscuits were fluffy. You had to climb the aisle to your seat because the plane sat on its tail and would not level off until taxiing down the runway, but sometimes the pilot would turn around to chat with the passengers. And there was Piedmont Airlines, which served small towns in the Shenandoah valley and could provide an unforgettable thrill ride through the blue ridge mountains.
     Trans Texas Airways, one of continental’s direct ancestors, connected towns mostly in Texas and Louisiana--and that was plenty. I once spotted a loose fuel cap on the wing of a tat plane after a takeoff from Houston. When I got up the courage to mention this to the flight attendant, she raced up to the cockpit, and the plane banked sharply to return to the airport. I was rewarded for my vigilance when my connecting flight in Lafayette was held ninety minutes--just for me.
     And there was Ozark, with its hub in Saint Louis. When they bought their first jets, they served wine baskets to everyone. it seems a shame that they were taken over by TWA.  TWA? Trans World Airlines. Flying coach from Saint Louis to Los Angeles, you would receive a menu with your choice of dinner entrees. Oh, that’s right. TWA is another airline gone. Twenty years ago Saint Louis was a bustling international hub. Now your voice will echo down empty concourses.
     There is much to be grateful for when it comes to air travel today. Deregulation increased affordability, for one thing. And for another? Well, you no longer have to go outside to board your plane. Unless you do.
     But when I hear of another airline disappearing and realize we will now encounter more or less the same few airlines everywhere, I think back to the days of Allegheny, Lake Central, Pacific Southwest.  To when families would wear their best clothes to the airport. To Branniff’s colorful planes and even more colorful flight attendants. To coast-to-coast-to-coast with National Airlines. To continental’s proud birds with golden tails. To the days when flying could be fun. Could be elegant. Could be exciting. AND often was.
Listener Comments:

As safe and reliable as flying is, it is a shame how much has been lost in the age deregulation.

Posted by: David (Ohio) on November 22, 2009 12:23PM
Gone but not forgotten as a retired Northwest Airline employee of 40 years.

Posted by: carol (maryland) on October 26, 2009 8:15AM
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